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An architect can architect architecture?

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Jared’s Update 01/16/14: make sure to read the great counterpoint in the first comment by Parallax.

A few weeks ago I watched in horror as the media-starved leadership of the architecture profession hitched onto the bandwagon of Kanye West. The self-glorified media trollip swaggered into a studio filled with Harvard design students and proclaimed to the mountain tops that, “The world can be saved through design, and everything needs to actually be ‘architected.”

Wait…what? An architect can architect architecture?

According to the bombastic rapper master of the universe: Yes!Kanye-West-at-Harvard-large

Someone notify the controversy brigade; the architecture profession has a celebrity endorsement for the value of architected architecture. Surely one of the oldest professions in humanity can do better than that! And while I discharge my frustrations upon this architecturally ignorant individual, there is an underlying lesson in his ostentatious behavior: the art of the humblebrag. Despite his unorthodox methodologies for garnering media attention, Kanye does create a considerable amount of publicity on his own behalf. One could look at it as controlling one’s self image.

While the architecture profession struggles to define their value I now find myself aghast that the architecture profession hasn’t taken ownership of our message. All too often you hear of firm principals lamenting, “The local media doesn’t cover building design like they used to.” I listen to these bemoans and reply, “You live in a digital age where you can write and publish virtually anything you want! WRITE and SHOW what you want people to see!” One thing I know for certain is that Kanye works to get his publicity; it certainly doesn’t get written out of thin air while he sits in his over-priced (likely architecturally designed) mansion.

I was recently at a meeting for a woman’s organization and introduced myself as someone who practices architecture for well-known, nation-wide commercial companies. All of them responded with the tone of disbelief when they said, “We had no idea an architect designs those spaces!”* In a snarky undertone I responded with, “How else do you think these places get built?” It was an unexpected educational moment with each side of the spectrum existing in their own bubble of ignorance. How could I, as a design professional, assume that the general public inherently knows that architecture really is in everything? I am a product of my own frustration.

As much as I hate to admit it, Kanye is the impetus for myself as a humblebrag—become the best damn saleswoman around for the architecture profession. Perhaps I should begin to work on isolating the architecting of architecture into easy to digest sound-bytes? How do architects architect? How much could one individual actually communicate? The best architects in the world could probably debate for a solid week and I doubt the message would be unified. Architecture is DEEP, so deep that it could be the equivalent of religious theology (i.e. – talked about at nauseum but never really understood, it is that old after all).

The enormity of the profession and its dutiful role in society has recently been placed into the twitter-sphere under the initiative of @ArchDoesMatter. The national leadership of the AIA publicized its first message on the initiative claiming that architects matter because architecture matters. That is a nice sentiment and all, but how does that really inform the common individual who naively assumes that architects build houses? And while this naivety is humdrum, I just insulted my potential client base because I, as a professional, have not communicated what I do adequately enough. Good-grief, the task of communicating a professions raison d’être is daunting. One must start somewhere I suppose.

How much architecture would an Architect architect
If an Architect could architect architecture?
An Architect would architect, an Architect would,
As much as an Architect could,

And architect as much as an Architect would
If an Architect could architect architecture.

*AIA Minnesota, please don’t fine me, they called me an Architect, they didn’t know it’s illegal to do so.


  • January 16, 2014


    There are a number of reasons a celebrity would want to go to an architecture studio of a prestigious Ivy League school and they should be encouraged to engage the young potential architects often and extensively, no matter what genre of music they represent; For the sheer excitement, courage to have a louder voice, or just a break from an otherwise mundane and monotonous existence. Unfortunately, the reason Kayne was at the GSD in the first place has been lost. I am not a huge fan of Kanye West, but I do enjoy the album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’, as well as ‘Late Registration’. There are some interesting songs that are about relevant topics of today. For example, ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’, ‘Runway’, ‘Dark Fantasy’, and ‘Blame Game’ are all very interesting pieces of art, yes ART, otherwise known as documented human expression. Beyond everything he is an artist, just like most of here.

    Overall, Kanye is a very creative individual and has been mostly successful in his endeavors despite his personality or the type art form he is most clearly associated with. With that, Kanye was invited by Harvard GSD’s African American Student Union to discuss minorities being under represented in design, not for music, nor for clothing designs. Maybe it was out of convenience, or good luck, he happened to be in the area performing that evening.

    Is this the worst thing that has happened to architecture in the United States last year? A black man in the Architectural schools’ studio is a rare thing to see, throughout the country. It’s great that he went to a smelly, messy studio to support our profession and provide a little media frenzy to boot. This is also good for a profession that is probably one of the most disrespected and lopsided these days. A software engineer makes 128k out of school, but an architecture student coming out of school starts at $15/hr with more than $100k in debt. Of the 107,000 registered architects record by the Bureau of Labor 2% are black, translating to roughly 20 in Minnesota. Is that because whites are better at architecture? Or is it that other stereotypes exist that systemically eliminate people of color from the pool of potential.

    Music like architecture is diverse, and translates to many cultures. This is what makes both architecture and music of the oldest disciplines. Architecture like music has always brought people together. This is the fundamental point of architecture, and music to bring together that which is chaotic and disorganized and give it order, meaning, rhythm and beauty. And at the very least opens a dialogue between people.

    So why can’t Kayne, Talib Kwali, John Digweed, or Mos Def show up to a architectural studio, stand on a desk, give a little speech, then invite 300 students to their show that night, for free without receiving static from the profession of professional critics. People aren’t up in arms because he’s working with some really forward thinking architects on some forward thinking projects, but because the architecture profession believes that it is only for certain type of people that have a certain set experiences, backgrounds, or education.

    Designing solutions often address issues created by physical problems which are directly related to the environments in which they exist. I would be very excited to see anyone walk into my studio when I was a student whether it be Thom Mayne or Nelly Furtado. Architect, architecture students, intern-architects and the like should be valued much higher than they are today, so kudos to Kanye for dropping into a studio used for something other than music and bringing a little attention to architecture.

    • July 2, 2014

      PREACH!! I agree with you fully. As a black architecture student the stereotype of the design world should be re-evaluated, I actually felt inspired that people of my colour are supporting what I’m trying to achieve and actually making an effort to try and “get it”. Its rare for that to happen, that goes for black architects inspiring other black architects… It never happens.

      • July 3, 2014


        True. There aren’t that many black architects out there being recognized for their work or their impact on their community and society in general.

        When I was close to completing my license requirements, I started to begin my research into the reality that exists today within the profession. I’m not sure if that is going to change anytime soon. While I was at an architectural school that was known for having a ton of diversity I think there were only 4 black students at any one time in the entire architecture program. When I started working after school I have only worked at one firm with one other black architect. After moving around to a few different firms I haven’t seen that percentage of diversity change very much. Most of the firms I have worked in have more european born designers, or technicians. In all the firms I have worked in I have never had a black client either. I think it would be great to see young media moguls and artist, like Kanye and Kim seek out these more diverse firms to build their dream homes and business empires. Though both of these aspects are troubling. The first aspect is that the most distraught communities are systematically targeted for higher interest rate loans, and illegal loaning practices. Second is that these communities need the most help to help the rest of the social fabric become stronger and more sustainable.

        This is an interesting article about the first black AIA member: http://www.aia.org/practicing/AIAB093255

        This is sort of where it all went wrong for some people within our country: http://salt.unc.edu/T-RACES/

        And after I had read about these sort of mind boggling elements I found this “Black Wealth/White Wealth,” which is also amazing, and has a bunch of history that has been omitted by your history books. http://www.amazon.com/Black-Wealth-White-Perspective-Anniversary-ebook/dp/B00CDUXESU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404439178&sr=1-1&keywords=Black+Wealth+%2F+White+Wealth

        And this most recent article, “A Hole in the American Dream
,” http://www.theinvestigativefund.org/investigations/economiccrisis/1989/a_hole_in_the_american_dream%E2%80%A9?page=entire

        Get licensed, design like mad, and write about it.

  • January 20, 2014

    tom pansing

    Language always fails describing what architecting actually is. Better to get going at architecting than to try to further describe it in an unsuitable format. – What are the orders of architecture? “Shut up and draw” 🙂

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